Budding tropical system has energy companies watching gulf

A ragged collection of rain showers off the Yucatan Peninsula may develop into a weak tropical system as it moves over the Gulf of Mexico, prompting some energy operations to evacuate non-essential personnel.

The low-pressure area in the southwestern Gulf has a 50% chance of becoming tropical in the next two days, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

“I believe there is still a chance to eke out a depression or a weak tropical storm, but odds for a major development seem very, very low.”said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.

The exact track of the system is uncertain, according to the hurricane center. A westward path would mean better chance of growth than a northerly one would.

Enbridge Inc.’s Manta Ray offshore natural gas gathering company evacuated non-essential personnel from two platforms off Louisiana on Aug. 14. Marathon Oil Corp. pulled some workers from its Ewing Bank platform in the Gulf yesterday.

BP Plc began removing non-essential workers from four offshore platforms yesterday and drilling rigs contracted by the company halted operations. Production at all platforms “remains online,” the company said in a website statement.

Rogers said the evacuations are probably necessary because there won’t be a lot of time to react if a storm actually develops in the 600,000-square-mile body of water.

Gulf Production

The Gulf is home to about 6% of U.S. natural gas output, 23% of oil production and at least 45% of petroleum-refining capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

The Bay of Campeche, at the southern end of the Gulf, is where Petroleos Mexicanos, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, has most of its output. Florida is the second-largest producer of oranges after Brazil.

A depression is the weakest form of tropical system. A storm gets a name when its winds reach 39 miles (63 kilometers) per hour. When maximum sustained winds reach at least 74 mph, a system is classified as a hurricane according to the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

The hurricane center is also tracking Tropical Depression Erin, which is about 530 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands. It was dropped from tropical storm status when its maximum sustained winds fell to 35 mph from 40.

Erin is expected to drift through the mid-Atlantic far from land before breaking up sometime next week.

“Erin seems like a no-threat fish storm,” Rogers said.

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